Shortly before noon yesterday I picked up my 10-year-old daughter Marie at Paseo’s Pottery. She had spent the morning there with her friend Isabella and her mom Angela, a potter herself, while I attended the last part of a five-day science writing workshop. After a whole week juggling with language and concepts in loud spaces with 50 other students, the earthy shop was unexpectedly appeasing.

As I arrived, Marie had just positioned a shapeless chunk on the wheel. She alone knew what it should look like at the end, but as a novice she did not realize how much effort was needed to get it there, and how likely her piece was to turn into something different from what she had in mind. “The most difficult is to get started,” explained Angela.  “Let me help you.”

The clay was hard and it took strength and skill to shape it right – it’s all a matter of angle. If Marie pushed it too much in one direction, her piece would disintegrate. But all that was needed for a beautiful piece was already there between her hands. The unfamiliar gestures felt awkward, the spinning of the wheel, intimidating. Every once in a while, Angela prompted her to sprinkle a few drops of water on the clay. How did she know why or when the piece needed to be moistened? Well, she was the expert, and Marie was eager to learn.

Marie’s mug/dip dish is now drying on a shelf at the potter’s shop. It’s not finished, and I even forgot to take a picture. Her piece may not be what she had in mind. If she doesn’t like it, it may finish at the back of our cupboard in our home in Switzerland. Or it may even (God forbid) not survive the trip back home. But she learnt how to make it, and loved learning it.

The piece of science writing I had crafted for my workshop is not finished either. I learnt from the presentations, talked with my companions, sprinkled input from my instructors. I “de-chunked” my draft, found a new angle and am now reshaping my piece. Instead of the salad bowl I had intended, it may become a little saucer. And if I work hard, it may even be a nice little saucer.